At Work in Syria, Times Correspondent, Anthony Shadid, Dies
Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey.
Mr. Shadid, 43, had been reporting inside Syria for a week, gathering information on the Free Syrian Army and other armed elements of the resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose military forces have been engaged in a harsh repression of the political opposition in a conflict that is now nearly a year old.
The Syrian government, which tightly controls foreign journalists’ activities in the country, had not been informed of his assignment by The Times.
The exact circumstances of Mr. Shadid’s death and his precise location inside Syria when it happened were not immediately clear.
But Mr. Hicks said that Mr. Shadid, who had asthma and had carried medication with him, began to show symptoms as both of them were preparing to leave Syria on Thursday, and the symptoms escalated into what became a fatal attack. Mr. Hicks telephoned his editors at The Times, and a few hours later he was able to take Mr. Shadid’s body into Turkey.
Jill Abramson, the executive editor, informed the newspaper’s staff Thursday evening in an e-mail. “Anthony died as he lived — determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces,” she wrote.
The assignment in Syria, which Mr. Shadid arranged through a network of smugglers, was fraught with dangers, not the least of which was discovery by the pro-government authorities in Syria. The journey into the country required both Mr. Shadid and Mr. Hicks to travel at night to a mountainous border area in Turkey adjoining Syria’s Idlib Province, where the demarcation line is a barbed-wire fence. Mr. Hicks said they squeezed through the fence’s lower portion by pulling the wires apart, and guides on horseback met them on the other side. It was on that first night, Mr. Hicks said, that Mr. Shadid suffered an initial bout of asthma, apparently set off by an allergy to the horses, but he recovered after resting.
On the way out a week later, however, Mr. Shadid suffered a more severe attack again apparently set off by proximity to the horses of the guides, Mr. Hicks said, as they were walking toward the border. Short of breath, Mr. Shadid leaned against a rock with both hands.
“I stood next to him and asked if he was O.K., and then he collapsed,” Mr. Hicks said. “He was not conscious and his breathing was very faint and very shallow.” After a few minutes, he said, “I could see he was no longer breathing.”
Mr. Hicks said he administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation for 30 minutes but was unable to revive Mr. Shadid.
The death of Mr. Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who had a wife and two children, abruptly ended one of the most storied careers in modern American journalism. Fluent in Arabic, with a gifted eye for detail and contextual writing, Mr. Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. Those talents won him a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 for his coverage of the American invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed, and a second Pulitzer in 2010, also for his Iraq reporting, both of them for The Washington Post. He also was a finalist in 2007 for his coverage of Lebanon, and has been nominated by The Times for his coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings that have transfixed the Middle East for the past year.
Mr. Shadid began his Middle East reporting career as a correspondent for The A.P. based in Cairo, traveling around the region from 1995 to 1999. He later worked at The Boston Globe before moving to The Post, where he was the Islamic Affairs correspondent and Baghdad bureau chief. He joined The Times at the end of 2009.
He was no stranger to injury, harassment and arrest. In 2002, while working for The Globe, he was shot and wounded in the shoulder as he walked on a street in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. During the tumultuous protests in Cairo last year that led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Shadid was hounded by Mr. Mubarak’s police, and during a police raid, he had to hide the computers used by Times reporters.
Mr. Shadid, Mr. Hicks and two other Times journalists, Stephen Farrell and Lynsey Addario, were arrested by pro-government militias during the conflict in Libya last year and held for more than a week, during which all were physically abused. Their driver, Mohammad Shaglouf, died.
In the 2004 citation, the Pulitzer Board praised “his extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended.” In the 2010 citation, the board praised “his rich, beautifully written series on Iraq as the United States departs and its people and leaders struggle to deal with the legacy of war and to shape the nation’s future.”
He spoke of the risks he took while reporting in an interview in December with Terry Gross on the NPR program “Fresh Air.” “I did feel that Syria was so important, and that story wouldn’t be told otherwise, that it was worth taking risks for,” he said of an earlier trip to Syria in which he entered the country from Lebanon on a motorcycle across a rugged stretch of land.
Mr. Shadid was not afraid to butt heads with his editors to protect a phrase, scene or quotation that he considered essential to making his point.
His final article for The Times, which ran on Feb. 9, was a behind-the-scenes look at the tumultuous situation in Libya, where rival militias had replaced the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. It ran long, at more than 1,600 words, which was typical of Mr. Shadid’s work. It was splashed on the front page of the newspaper and the home page of the Web site, nytimes.com, which was also typical.
Mr. Shadid also had a penchant for elegiac prose. In the opening of a new book, “House of Stone,” to be published next month, he described what he had witnessed in Lebanon after Israeli air assaults in the summer of 2006:
“Some suffering cannot be covered in words,” he wrote. “This had become my daily fare as reporter in the Middle East documenting war, its survivors and fatalities, and the many who seem a little of both. In the Lebanese town of Qana, where Israeli bombs caught their victims in the midst of a morning’s work, we saw the dead standing, sitting, looking around. The village, its voices and stories, plates and bowls, letters and words, its history, had been obliterated in a few extended moments that splintered a quiet morning.”